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Monday, October 25, 2010


by Jeffrey McDonald

The old man sat
at the coffee shop counter.

One night a young man joined him
and said he hates this country,
and he can’t trust the politicians
and the military
and the media,
and why WHY do people wave their flags and sing their songs?

And the old man said,
screw the politicians,
let the military do their job
and damn the media.
That’s not your country.
Your country is your friends,
your family,
your favorite basketball team,
Central Park,
Yellowstone Park,
your favorite High School teacher,
your home town.
Wave your flag and sing your song for those things.
Stop worrying about the big ugly things you’ve heard exist.
Your country is a people, and the people are you, me
and that guy back there making the coffee.

Another night another young man joined him
And said he hates these damn Russians
Taking over the neighborhood,
and the blacks in Bed Stuy
and the Jews in Midwood
and the Polish in Greenpoint
and the Puerto Ricans in Sunset Park
and why WHY don’t these people go
back from where they came
and quit taking our jobs?

And the old man said,
imagine your country as a hotel.
This city is the main lobby
and the people mill about
waiting for their rooms
and the wait time is measured in generations.
Some are shown their rooms first, in one generation.
Some take longer.
Your parents, grandparents, or maybe before that,
were shown their rooms, as were mine.
Some are still waiting.
The important part is to keep working hard,
and never block the path of another.
And the people you mention
are some of the hardest working this city has,
including that guy back there making the coffee.

On a third night the old man was joined by another old man,
who said he didn’t understand the kids today.
They either hated their country and freedom,
a freedom he fought for.
Or they didn’t want to work,
after he worked his whole life to make ends meet.
Or they were a bunch of hooligans,
beating on each other over skin color,
when he’d live side by side with any man of medal.
And why WHY don’t they take some responsibility and stop running
this country into the ground?

And the old man said,
I’m not a politician.
A professor.
A police officer.
A guidance counselor.
A movie star.
Or even just a parent,
you’d be amazed at how much you can help
by sitting
at this one coffee shop counter,
if you stay long enough.
And the man making the coffee turned to him and smiled.

Jeffrey McDonald talks to old men in coffee shops.  He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and two sons.